Hot tech buys for the holidays

Hot products could include Apple's MacBook Air and Canon's PowerShot SD4500 IS digital camera

As the holiday shopping season nears, many companies are launching products that could be popular sellers. With its starting price down to US$999, Apple's lightweight MacBook Air laptop is high on my shopping list. Canon's new PowerShot SD4500 IS, a point-and-shoot digital camera that can shoot 1080p high-definition video, is another product I may buy, but only if its $349 price comes down. Other coveted products expected to be out soon include Dell's Venue Pro smartphone and Adam's Notion Ink tablet.

1. Apple's MacBook Air

Apple this week announced its latest MacBook Air, and with a starting price of US$999, it's more affordable than its predecessor. The light and slim profile makes the laptop very attractive, but a concern is Intel's Core 2 Duo processor, which is older and slower compared to some of Intel's recent Core i3, i5 and i7 releases. Intel now bundles the CPU and graphics processor in one chip, which may have discouraged Apple from using Intel's latest chips.

Nevertheless, the 64GB solid-state drive and Nvidia's 320M integrated graphics outweigh any deficiencies. The Air lineup includes laptops with 11.6-inch and 13.3-inch screen sizes, with storage capacities ranging from 64GB to 256GB. The Air is already available through Apple's website.

2. Apricorn's Aegis NetDock

The cheapest MacBook Air lacks an optical drive and has limited storage, and Apricorn's multifaceted NetDock device fills those holes. The NetDock bundles a DVD-RW drive, a hard drive and a USB hub in one device. It can play or burn a DVD, or connect peripherals to the Air through four USB slots. The dock includes hard drives with capacities of 250GB and 500GB, making it handy as a backup. The NetDock works with Macs and PCs, and is priced between $89 and $179 on Apricorn's website.

3. Dell Venue Pro

Apple's iPhone may be the craze, but Dell's Venue Pro is an impressive phone that is small, easy to hold and rugged. The handset comes with a slide-out keyboard and a 4.1-inch screen built on "Gorilla Glass," which Dell says protects the screen from cracking. The handset runs Windows Phone 7, Microsoft's new mobile OS that pairs applications under hubs, with automatic updates to Twitter feeds and other applications such as e-mail. While the OS looks promising, it is much different from conventional operating systems like Google's Android and Apple's iOS, and may require a learning curve.

Dell has said the phone is for consumers, but also an alternative to Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices, which are known as enterprise handsets. The company hasn't announced Venue Pro's price or availability, but has said it will reach consumers soon. More information about the Venue Pro's specifications are available on Dell's website.

4. Canon Powershot SD4500 IS

Canon has released a sophisticated 10-megapixel digital camera, the Powershot SD4500 IS, which is not only slim, but can also shoot full 1080p high-definition videos. Canon cameras are known for taking sharp images, and the SD4500 has a new Digic 4 processor that takes images faster and is better at grabbing sights in low-light conditions. The processor also helps the camera automatically adjust settings to take the best picture in certain conditions. The camera includes image stabilization features to improve the quality of images. It also includes a high-speed burst feature, where the camera can take images continuously at 8.4 frames per second. The device comes with a built-in lithium-ion battery, a 3-inch screen and an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) output so videos can be played directly on TV.

Best Buy lists the camera at $349, which is high considering that quality cameras are available at lower prices. I might wait to buy the camera until its price drops to under $300, if that ever happens.

5. Notion Ink's Adam tablet

My tablet of choice is Notion Ink's Adam because of its video capabilities, large screen size and innovative hardware. The device is powered by Nvidia's Tegra 2 chip, which includes a graphics core that allows for 1080p video playback and a dual-core processor that could make the tablet faster than Apple's iPad. The Adam comes with a 10.1-inch screen, which is larger than iPad's 9.7-inch screen. It's the first tablet to use Pixel Qi's transflective display, which can absorb ambient light to brighten screens. That could help reduce power consumption to extend battery life. But a dual-core processor and 1080p graphics capabilities could draw a lot of power, which could negate energy savings derived from the screen.

The product is being made by a small Indian startup and has gone through many delays, and its launch date remains unknown. But the company is close to submitting it to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for approval, according to a recent blog entry.

The company has pegged the price of the tablet between $399 and $498.

Tags DIGITAL GEARnetbooksDellAppleCanonNotion Inkstorageconsumer electronicslaptopsdigital camerasmac laptopsDriveshardware systemsApricornhddtablet PCs

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Agam Shah

IDG News Service

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